Friday, September 30, 2016

From The Department Of Shameful Situations

From the Department Of Shameful Situations:

Why is it that all of these wonderfully terrible movies (and many more like 'em) are currently available on blu ray in glorious 1080p resolution...

...but I still can't buy a similarly restored version of the unf*cked, unaltered theatrical versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, without all of George's endless, asinine, unwanted and unasked for "improvements?" Why does Chopping Mall get more loving treatment than one of the most influential films in cinematic history?


Sweet Dreams!

Good news for kids of the 1980s! Lovable animatronic toy icon Teddy Ruxpin is back!

Teddy was originally created by Worlds Of Wonder, and premiered on store shelves in 1985. He's now owned by a company called Wicked Cool Toys, who've updated Teddy for the new millennium.

No longer does Teddy Ruxpin have old fashioned mechanical eyes like a common peasant. As you can see, this new version of Teddy features brightly lit, state of the art LCD eyes that are capable of over forty different expressions!

Hmm. His eyeballs are now basically two miniature smart phone screens, right? Screens that light up only when they're turned on.

So what happens when Teddy's eventually turned off? The screens would go black, right? Just like your phone when it's not on. And then he's going to look like some horrifying beast with eyes like wounds, who comes to life in the middle of the night and devours the souls of children while they sleep. Or like something that shambled off the set of Event Horizon.

Teddy Ruxpin wants to be your new best friend, kids. For ever, and ever, and ever, and ever...

Nighty nite! Don't let the Silent Shriekers bite!

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 2: Meet The New Boss

So far, so good! Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be firing on all cylinders this season (granted, this is only the second episode).

I wasn't sure about Ghost Rider joining the cast, as I thought it was a bizarre direction for the series to take. Turns out it was just the shot in arm the show needed. I definitely like this new version of the character.

I'm also very appreciative that the show isn't wasting time spinning its wheels, waiting for the mid season finale to wrap up their storylines. They hit the ground running last week with a bunch of different storylines, and they all progressed very rapidly this week. 
More shows could learn from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s pacing (I'm lookin' at you, recent seasons of The Walking Dead!). 

This week we finally got to see the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, who had a genuinely shocking secret that I did not see coming. We also found out more about the Ghost Lady who was hiding in the chest last week. As I suspected, she's not really a ghost— and she has company!

Agent May's deterioration proceeded with breakneck speed this week as well. I gotta tell you, it was disturbing to see the usually Vulcan-like May completely lose her mind. Scary stuff!


The Plot:
We open as the Ghost Lady from last week (who can "infect" people and make them see demons or something) passes through a little boy's room. He tells his dad he saw a g-g-g-ghost, and of course he doesn't believe him. That is until Ghost Lady appears and asks what the hell they're doing in her house. The terrified dad says they've been living there for years, causing the Ghost Lady to scream and fly through him. The dad then starts seeing his son as a black-eyed demon.

Meanwhile Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, drives to work at Carmelo's Auto Body in his souped up '69 Dodge Charger. Inside the shop he sees Daisy talking to his boss. She pretends she's old friends with Robbie, obviously having hacked into his records and brushed up on his history. Robbie pulls her aside and asks what she wants. She says she's checked him out and knows he, or rather Ghost Rider, has been going after The Watchdogs. She thinks he's an Inhuman like her, but he says he's something else, as he sold his soul to the Devil.

Daisy brings up Robbie's little brother Gabe, which infuriates him. He grabs a tire iron, ignites it and knocks her across the room with it, fracturing her arm. Ouch! He warns her to stay away from him and his family or else.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., FitzSimmons studies the Ark Of The Covenant the Chinese Mafia chest that Coulson and Mack found last week
— the one that contained the Ghost Lady. Even though it looks empty, Fitz discovers it's filled with advanced, invisible technology. Mack examines the security footage from their meeting with the Chinese thugs, and sees the Ghost Lady on the tape. Somehow they figure out there may be a connection between the box and Momentum Alternative Energy Lab in Pasadena. Fitz and Mack take a Quinjet to investigate.

Meanwhile, Coulson and May meet with Jeffrey Mace, the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He orders Coulson to give a tour of the base to a group of influential politicians, who could increase S.H.I.E.L.D.'s funding.

Ghost Lady somehow finds the Momentum Lab (I think maybe the kid's dad she phased through worked there?), and wanders into what looks like some sort of reactor room. She finds more boxes like the one she was in, and opens them, releasing several more "ghosts." We see they're not ghosts at all, but humans who've been partially phased in some sort of scientific accident. 

Hugo, one of the phased scientists, asks Ghost Lady, who's name is Lucy, what's going on. She says they've been transformed into transparent phantoms and have spent years inside the boxes. She releases several more of the ghosts. One of them blames Lucy for their state, saying she should never have used the Darkhold in their experiment. Lucy assures them she'll recover the Darkhold and reverse their condition.

Agent May, who was infected by Lucy in the previous episode, keeps seeing demon faces in everyone around her. She goes to the containment unit to visit Chen, the Chinese Mob boss from last week. She asks him what's going on, and she says "they" are everywhere, and starts banging his head against the glass until he's sedated.
Ghost Rider ties up Daisy and tells her it seems like she's serving penance for something. She mentions Momentum Lab (Jesus, how does everyone know about this place?) and Ghost Rider immediately heads there. Daisy breaks free and jumps on top of his car. It bursts into flames and she's forced to leap off.

Mack and Fitz arrive at Momentum Labs. As Fitz examines the equipment, one of the ghosts appears. Fitz warns Mack not to let it touch him (which Mack already knows from earlier). The ghost backs Mack up into the containment chamber, and locks him inside. The chamber then starts powering up with Mack inside, which seems like a bad thing. Fitz tries to shut off the chamber, but the ghost chases him away from the control panel. Just as it's about to touch him, Ghost Rider enters. He grabs the ghost and burns it to a crisp (?). Quake then arrives, frees Mack, and Fitz shuts down the chamber. Ghost Rider sees an old photo of the Momentum staff, picks it up and leaves.

Mack treats Daisy's injured arm, and tries to get her to come back to S.H.I.E.L.D. He says they've got medicine that could heal her injured bones. He stops when he realizes that his pal Yo-yo has been stealing the drug and secretly giving it to Daisy, which pisses him off royally.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., May starts seeing more and more demons, and freaks out. She starts attacking everyone she sees. Coulson tries to calm her down, but she's suspicious and starts kicking his ass. Suddenly the Director appears. May attacks him, but he's completely unaffected. We realize he's actually a super-strong Inhuman. Gasp! Now that's a plot twist! He knocks out May easily and has her restrained.

We then learn that Coulson stepped down from the Director position, and wanted Captain America to take over for him. That plan was scuttled by the events of Captain America: Civil War, so Coulson suggested the new Director be someone with superpowers that the public could trust. Apparently that someone was Jeffrey Mace. Coulson asks to see May, but Mace tells him he's handling the situation, and not to worry about it. We then see a Quinjet carrying the politicians back to Washington, along with a screaming May who's strapped to a gurney.

Ghost Rider meets with Daisy and says he thinks he's somehow the connection between the Watchdogs, the Chinese mob and the lab ghosts. They get in his car and roar off.

• If the next episode isn't titled Same As The Old Boss, then someone on the writing staff needs fired.

• When Daisy questions Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, he tells her, "You get lost, or I'll get angry. So angry, I may not remember what I do to you."

So is Ghost Rider like the Hulk now, and transforms when he gets angry? Has that always been a thing in the comics, or something made up for the show?

• During the Director's meeting, he sends May out of the room so he can talk to Coulson alone. After she leaves, the Director says, "Melinda May. Now there's a riddle I'd like to solve!"

Wow, that was... kind of creeptastic. I know he's the boss and all, but if I said something like that in a meeting where I work, I'd be cleaning out my desk a few minutes later.

• Mack sees Ghost Lady on security footage, and speculates that her touch causes people to go nuts. FitzSimmons wonders how she became incorporeal. Fitz says maybe an interdimensional shift caused it. Simmons says yes, just like Tobias Ford.

Wondering who Tobias Ford is? Me too. He was in the Season 1 episode Repairs, who sabotaged a particle accelerator, which exploded and sent him into another dimension.

I freely admit I did not remember any of that, and had to look it up. Kudos to the writers though, for apparently remembering it.

• The Director says they need to make nice with the politicians so they'll increase S.H.I.E.L.D.'s budget, since it no longer has "anonymous unlimited funding" like it did before.

So who was funding it during Coulson's reign? Tony Stark, perhaps? Is even he rich enough to foot the bill for a massive secret spy organization? Maybe Peggy Carter started a savings account in the 1940s and the accrued interest amounted to millions?

I guess the real answer is none of our business, since the matter's immediately dropped.

• During the tour, Coulson tells the politicians that Peggy Carter oversaw the construction of the facility. It was nice that Peggy got a shoutout in the episode, but it was also a painful reminder of Agent Carter's untimely cancellation.

• In a similar vein, if you watched the episode live, then you saw a couple for ABC's new series Conviction, starring Haley Atwell. Way to rub our noses in the fact that you cancelled Agent Carter, ABC. Maybe it wasn't meant that way, but I can't help but feel it was a big middle finger to fans of the late series.

• Apparently Ghost Lady, aka Lucy, worked at Momentum Labs with Hugo and several other scientists. She used something called the Darkhold in an experiment, which turned them all into interdimensional ghosts.

Wondering just what the heck the Darkhold is? Get comfortable, it's a long story.

In the comics, the Darkhold is an ancient evil book, sort of like the Necronomicon in the Evil Dead movies. It was written by Chthon, an Elder God who was the first practitioner of black magic. He put all his evil knowledge into it. 

The indestructible magic book was passed down for thousands of years, and was responsible for the first vampire in the Marvel Universe, as well as the source of the werewolf curse. 

It's an incredibly powerful weapon in the hands of a skilled sorcerer. For those less powerful it can wreak havoc, as it grants wishes in the worst possible way. Doctor Strange once used the Darkhold to destroy all vampires on earth. It's pretty obvious that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is using the Darkhold to tie in with the upcoming Doctor Strange movie.

• Unintentionally (I think) hilarious line: When May goes nuts and starts attacking everyone, Coulson says, "She's sick, don't hurt her!" Ha! Note that he says this as she's spinning around like a dervish, kicking the asses of everyone in sight.

• The plot twist of this week's episode was the reveal that new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Jeffrey Mace is an Inhuman. Did not see that one coming.

Believe it or not, Mace has appeared in the comics before. Way back in 1941, he was the superhero known as the Patriot. He actually became Captain America for a while, after the real Cap disappeared in the Arctic.

I doubt this version of Mace shares that same history, as I'm pretty sure the comic version wasn't an Inhuman. But it might help explain why Coulson thinks the public will trust him as the new leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.

• So the senators have to sign an Non Disclosure Agreement in order to tour SHIELD, but the Director lets them take photos? That... doesn't seem right.

• Last week I said it was odd that Daisy's quake powers were suddenly harming her bones, even though she used them freely all last season with no ill effects. I realize now it's because she no longer has her gauntlets, which protected her arms from her vibrational powers. So it's not a retcon after all. Never mind!

• I just noticed that Ghost Rider's car has little skulls on its door locks.

• Speaking of Ghost Rider's car: His '69 Dodge Charger is a pretty distinctive ride, and easy to recognize. Does anyone in LA ever see Robbie in it and say, "Hey, that looks just like the burning car I saw that murderous, flame-headed skeleton driving a couple days ago!"

• During the tour, the politicians ooh and aah when the Director asks if they'd like to see a Quinjet. At the end of the episode, they're riding back home in one, along with the babbling Agent May. 

If they're riding back in a Quinjet, then they probably came there in one. So why were they so excited to see one during the tour?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Votes Are In!

I went to my local Target last night and noticed they're now selling Election Day Greeting Cards. Wha…? What the hell are you supposed to do with those

I've always thought that sending cards on St. Patrick's Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving was a stretch, but Election Day? Sheesh! What a waste of recycled paper! It's not like it's a cherished holiday, or an occasion to spend time with family and friends. It's a day when you get to take a couple hours off from work and pretend to go vote for one of two candidates you can't stand.

And what the hell do they even say? "Thinking of you on this beloved and most holy of Election Days. And if you vote for the other guy you're dead to me."

I can't wait to get one of these from someone so it can go straight from the mailbox to the trash can.

The only reason I can come up with for the existence of Election Day cards is monetary. Hallmark probably noticed a sharp drop in sales in early November, and rushed these cards into stores, hoping to trick a few gullible consumers into thinking it's an occasion for sending out a card.

It Came From The Cineplex: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (2016) was written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, and directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Pizillatto previously wrote several episodes of the TV series The Killing and True Detective. This apears to be his first theatrical work. Wenk wrote 16 Blocks, The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and The Equalizer.

Fuqua previously directed The Replacement Killers, Training Day, King Arthur (!), Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer and Southpaw. Apparently Fuqua loves working with both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, as The Magnificent Seven is their third collaboration. Washington starred in Training Day and The Equalizer, while Hawke was also in Training Day, as well as Brooklyn's Finest.

The Magnificent Seven is of course a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, which in turn was a remake of the 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai. It's a moderately entertaining film, but follows the plot of the previous film very closely and honestly brings nothing new to the table. In fact if you've seen either of the prior versions, you already know everything that happens here— right down to which of the main characters die at the end!

The "Inexperienced Townspeople Hire Fighters To Save Them From Bad Men" storyline is a very popular one in westerns and action films, and has been used in many times over the years. The same plot (or a variation of it) is used in The Professionals, Vera Cruz, The Hallelujah Trail, The Wild Bunch, Nevada Smith, Red Sun, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen

And it's not just westerns that use this plot. Roger Corman's low-budget sci-fi epic Battle Beyond The Stars is basically just The Magnificent Seven in outer space. Galaxy Quest, one of my all-time favorite movies, features pretty much the same plot as well. Even comedies like Three Amigos! and A Bug's Life are pretty much remakes of the 1960 film. 

Thankfully, director Antoine Fuqua used suitable actors of color for all the ethnic characters in the film. Hallelujah! It's the right thing to do, of course, but as an added bonus, now we won't have to endure another controversy like the one that brewed over the casting in Gods Of Egypt.

Speaking of casting, I spent the whole goddamned movie thinking I was watching actress Jennifer Lawrence as Emma Cullen, the female lead. Imagine my surprise when I saw the end credits and found out it wasn't her at all, but Haley Bennet, whoever the hell that is.

Just look at her! You cannot tell me that isn't Jennifer Freakin' Hunger Games Lawrence right there! She looks just like her! If this really and truly isn't J-Law, then she's got a twin no one ever knew about before.

I suspect this is another one of those Hollywood conspiracies, just like the one in which Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Summer Glau are the same damned person.


The Plot:
Have you ever seen Seven Samurai? Or The original Magnificent Seven? Eh, this is pretty much the same thing.

In 1879, evil businessman Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard) invades the peaceful little tow of Rose Creek. He informs the locals he's buying out their town to turn it into a mine or something, and considerately gives them three weeks to get the hell out. Then, just to make sure we get that he's evil, he shoots and kills Matthew Cullen, the only man in town who tries to stand up to him.

The terrified townspeople stand around wringing their hands, wondering what to do. They want to fight back against Bogue, but they're simple farmers, not soldiers. Matthew's widow Emma Cullen (played by Jennifer Lawrence Haley Bennett) gets the bright idea to hire a team of gunslingers to protect the town.

Emma and her friend Teddy Q ride to the nearest city to recruit protectors. There they witness cool, unflappable bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (played by Denzel Washington) as he enters a saloon. Chisolm's obviously supposed to be the Chris Adams character here, who was famously played by Yul Brenner in the 1960 film. Chisolm kills a criminal who's posing as a bartender. Emma approaches him and offers him everything she has to protect Rose Creek. He's reluctant to get involved at first, but agrees to help when he learns Bogue's behind it all. I guess he really hates Bogue or something?

Chisolm first recruits boozy gambler Josh Faraday (played by Chris Pratt). He's clearly the Vin Tanner character here, who was played by Steve McQueen in the previous version of the film. Chisolm and Faraday then split up to recruit more gunslingers. Chisolm hires his friend Goodnight Robicheaux (played by Ethan Hawke), a sharpshooter who's constantly accompanied by his associate Billy Rocks (played by Byung-hun Lee), a knife-tossing assassin. Faraday recruits Mexican outlaw Vasquez (played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who apparently can't afford a first name. The two groups meet up, and are eventually joined by wheezy mountain man Jack Horner (played by Vincent D'Onofiro) and Commanche warrior Red Harvest (played by Martin Sensmeier). Let's see... five, six, seven... yup, that makes seven protectors. And they're magnificent!

The group rides to Rose Creek, where they're met by some of Bogue's thugs (I guess he left them behind to guard the town?). A shootout ensues, and the gunslingers kill most of the thugs. During the shootout, Robicheaux can't bring himself to fire on the enemy, and we learn he fought in the Civil War and now suffers from PTSD. 
The gunslingers chase off the corrupt Sheriff (who's in Bogue's pocket) and tell him to deliver a message to his boss: Leave Rose Creek alone, or else.

Chisolm says they'll have about a week before Bogue returns with an army of goons, and the town will need to be ready for him. They train the townspeople how to shoot, plan strategies and set various deadly traps. At the end of the week, Robicheaux decides he can't kill anymore and leaves town. Emma, who's proven herself a capable marksman, er markswoman, fills in for him.

The next day Bogue arrives with his army. He attacks the town, but the Rose Creekians spring their deadly traps, killing many of the thugs. 
To absolutely no one's surprise, Robicheaux returns at just the right moment to turn the tide. I guess he miraculously got over his PTSD during the night. The gunslingers pick off dozens more of Bogue's men. Vasquez kills McCann, while Horner's killed by Denali, Bogue's Comanche assassin. Red Harvest labels Denali a traitor to his people, and kills him. 

Just when it looks like the townspeople are winning, Bogue reveals his secret weapon— a Gatling gun. He unleashes it on the town, killing dozens of innocents. Chisolm tells the surviving townspeople to leave before they're all murdered.

Robicheaux and Rocks climb the church tower and begin picking off Bogue's men from above, but are ultimately cut down. Faraday then goes on a suicide mission to take out the Gatling gun. He's shot several times, and falls to his knees just in front of the gun. He tries to light a last cigarette, but his hands are shaking too badly. One of Bogue's men lights it for him out of pity. Faraday then reveals he's holding a stick of dynamite, lights it with his cigarette, and blows up the Gatling gun and several more of Bogue's men. See, smoking is dangerous to your health!

Realizing his entire army's gone, Bogue tries to flee. He's confronted by Chisolm, who challenges him to a shootout in the middle of town. Bogue tries to draw, but Chisolm shoots the gun out of his hand (of course). Bogue runs into the church (that he burned earlier), confident that Chisolm won't cut him down in the Lord's house.

Chisolm follows him into the church. He reveals that his mother and sister were raped and murdered by Bogue and his men, and begins strangling him. 
Bogue pulls a small gun out of his boot, but he's shot in the head by Emma, who appears just in time.

With the town saved, Emma tells Chisolm that he and the other gunslingers are legends, and the town will never forget them. Chisolm, Vasquez and Red Harvest ride off into the sunset. Cue Elmer Bernstein's score!

• There are a lot of cast connections in this film:

Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lawrence Haley Bennett both starred in The EqualizerEthan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio were both in Brooklyn's Finest. And Chris Pratt and Vincent D'Onofrio starred together in Jurassic World.

• Man, this new Magnificent Seven movie poster is one butt-ugly piece of design. Who the hell thought slate gray and muddy gold would make an eye-catching color combo? I guess it's in good company though, as the 1960 poster wasn't much better.

• Any time Chisolm places his gun in its holster, he does so with the grip facing away from him. Wha...? I freely admit I know nothing about guns or gunslinging, but this seems completely wrong to me. I don't see any tactical advantage to this method at all. When he draws, he's not only going to have to flip his gun over, but around, so it's facing his opponent. Wouldn't that eat up precious split seconds, and get him killed in a draw?

• As in most westerns, the main characters all know one another personally or by reputation. This despite the fact they live hundreds of miles apart, in a world in which the telegraph is the most advanced form of communication. It's a small world, I guess.

• The movie definitely needed more of Bartholomew Bogue, the main villain. He shows up for a couple of minutes in the opening scene, then disappears completely from the movie until the big battle in the third act. 

All through the film we're constantly TOLD he's a badass, psycho and force of nature all rolled into one, but when he finally shows up again at the end, he doesn't do anything particularly evil. In fact once his army of goons is wiped out, he turns out to be a sniveling coward.

I guess maybe that was the point? That he's only a threat when he's got an army to back him up? If so, that's an interesting take on the character, but it's not right for this film. The Magnificent Seven needs a villain who's a formidable force even without his army.

• During the obligatory "bonding" scene between the gunslingers, Faraday (Chris Pratt) tells a joke about a man who's thrown off a six story building. As he falls past a windows, a person looking out asks him how things are going. The falling man says, "So far so good!"

Steve McQueen's character told the exact same joke in the 1960 film.

The Magnificent Seven continues the time-honored tradition of bad guys who can be killed by one bullet, arrow or well-place axe, while the heroes can keep on fighting after being shot a dozen times. I'm honestly surprised that Faraday didn't get up and dust himself off after detonating the stick of dynamite he was holding. 

• In every version of the film, four of the seven protectors die during the final battle. The way they're remembered is quite different in the new film though.

In Seven Samurai, four of the protectors are brutally cut down. At the end of the film, one of the surviving samurai says, "The victory belongs to those peasants. Not to us."

In the 1960 Magnificent Seven, Chris Adams gazes at the graves of his fallen comrades and says virtually the same thing.

In this new version, we see the graves of the fallen gunslingers, and Emma Cullen says they're all heroes and will never be forgotten by the townspeople.

This completely changes the tone of the ending, and not necessarily for the better. In the previous versions, the protectors died for people they didn't even know, and the world at large would never know their sacrifice. In the new film, the gunslingers and their actions become legendary.

Chalk it up as a sign of our times. Few people today understand the concept of self sacrifice (for no personal gain).

 Even people who've never seen the 1960 The Magnificent Seven have heard Elmer Bernstein's iconic theme music. I was wondering if they'd shoehorn it into this new version, and sure enough, they did. They play a few bars of it during as the end credits begin to roll.

Composer James Horner wrote the bulk of the new film's score. Sadly, he died in a tragic plane crash in 2015 before he was done. Horner's friend Simon Franglen finished the score for him. 

Horner wrote many, many memorable film scores over the years, including Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock, Cocoon, ALIENS, Willow, The Rocketeer, Braveheart, Titanic and Avatar

Sadly, his score for The Magnificent Seven isn't going to top Bernstein's.

Although he was a brilliant and excellent film composer, he was often criticized for "stealing" bits and pieces from his earlier scores. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Magnificent Seven. As I watched the film I heard a couple of familiar riffs on the soundtrack, and I honestly knew it was a James Horner score before I even looked at the end credits.

He scored over a hundred films though, so I'm willing to cut him some slack here. What artist (including myself) hasn't reused an idea now and then?

The Magnificent Seven is a fairly enjoyable update of the 1960 version, but offers little or no surprises. If you've never seen any of the previous films, I guess it's worth a look. If you've seen the others, then you're safe skipping this one. I give it a B-.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Man Of Heel(s)

As you no doubt are aware, unless you've been frozen in the Arctic for the past seventy years, the upcoming second season of The CW's Supergirl series will finally feature the appearance of Superman.

The show was constantly teasing his appearance in Season 1, as Supergirl would get encouraging texts from her more famous cousin, or they'd give us a glimpse of his cape or a fleeting shot of his boots. I'm assuming they were playing coy and never actually had him fully appear for some sort of legal or copyright reason.

Welp, that's all changed in Season 2. In an effort to shore up Supergirl's less than super (see what I did there?) ratings, the Man Of Steel will be appearing in all his full-bodied glory.

Right now I'm hoping that Superman will appear sporadically on the show (such as in the opening episode and during Sweeps Weeks), because I don't think it'd be a good idea for him to become a series regular. There's a very real risk of the show shifting its focus exclusively onto him. Superman could very well become the Urkell of Supergirl, and shove her out of the limelight altogether.

Here's a shot of the two of them together. They make a good looking couple, I suppose. Actor Tyler Hoechlin makes an adequate Superman, I guess, as he looks reasonably heroic... wait a minute. Let's zoom in for a second.

Look at those boots that Hoechlin's wearing. Jesus Building-Leaping Christ! He's wearing lifts! His heels are literally bigger than Supergirl's! By a good four or five inches. Holy Compensation, Batman! I wonder what else he's padding under that suit?

I wonder if the producers noticed the two actors were the same height when they stood next to one another, so they jacked up his heels, pronto. Heck, I'm betting he may have even been shorter than her!

Hopefully he practices walking in those things before filming, so he doesn't wobble around and accidentally fall of his heels.

I know this is a horse I've beaten for far too long, but I don't care— this photo also perfectly demonstrates why Superman needs his red trunks to help break up the blue of his suit. Supergirl looks perfect with her little red skirt. Superman still looks like something's missing with his solid blue longjohns. I'll never get used to this look.

Also, as my pal KW Monster pointed out to me, why is Supergirl's "S" emblem (that stands for "hope" in Kryptonian) different from her cousin's? Why doesn't hers have a yellow— sorry, make that dirty mustard—  background? It makes her emblem look cheap and incomplete, and I honestly can't think of any reason to leave it off.

Old School Supergirl from the '80s had a red and yellow emblem  and she looked just fine. So why the change?

If I had to guess, I'd say they changed it for marketing and merchandising purposes. If the characters' emblems are interchangeable, Warner Bros. couldn't sell separate merchandise. They'd only be able to sell one S-shield t-shirt or pendant, and they'd halve their profits. Plus it might be confusing for the customer. "Is this a Superman shirt? I hope so, I don't want to wear a Supergirl shirt in front of my nerd guy friends!"

So I get it, but I don't like it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 1: The Ghost

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back, for its fourth, and most likely last season!

What's that? "But Bob," I hear you say. "Whatever do you mean? What could possibly make you think this'll be the show's final season?" 

Welp, because ABC, in its infinite wisdom, moved the series from 9pm to 10pm (8pm to 9pm to me, here in the middle of the country). 10pm has traditionally been considered "The Death Slot," the place where networks send put shows out to pasture. They limp along for a few months in that time slot until they start to wither, their audience dries up and they're ultimately cancelled. 

There are many series that have been quite successful in that time slot, of course. But they generally started out at 10pm. It's when a series is moved there that their days become numbered.

Naturally ABC's trying to put a positive spin on the move, assuring the public that the move to a later hour will allow Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to "go darker" and feature more violence. Jesus Christ, how much darker can the show get? The Season 3 episode Failed Experiments featured a horrifying scene of a character's head melting, which was worse than anything I've seen on The Walking Dead. And in Ascension, the Season 3 finale, Yo-yo caught a bullet in her side (despite the fact that she has super-speed) and Mack cauterized her wound with a goddamned blowtorch! Holy crap! And they want to go even darker?

I can certainly understand ABC and Marvel's reasoning here. After all, going dark, grim and violent has worked out so well for the DC movie universe.

Of course the really big news this season is that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is adding Ghost Rider to the show. Yeah, you heard right. Ghost Rider. The guy with a flaming skull for a head, famously played by batsh*t insane actor Nicolas Cage in 2, count 'em two theatrical films from Sony.

I don't know... adding Ghost Rider to the mix seems like a very, very weird addition to what is ostensibly a spy series. They don't go together. There's no commonality there; they just don't mix or mesh. It feels as odd as if the cast of Sleepy Hollow suddenly appeared on Bones. Oh, wait...

On the other hand, it's not like this is the first bizarre turn 
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken. Agent Coulson came back from the dead, Skye developed superpowers and insisted on being called Daisy, we met a low-budget Hulk (aka Calvin Zabo) and the Inhumans, Simmons was stranded on an alien planet for several months, and Grant Ward died but was possess by a squid-faced alien god. Now that I think about it, a vengeance demon with a flaming skull head isn't so strange after all.


The Plot:

We begin six weeks after the Season 3 finale (which featured a six month time-jump
 confused yet?). Daisy's still doing her best Lisbeth Salander impression, but instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor like she had been doing, she's switched to tracking a white supremacist group that's running guns or something. Just as she's about ready to use her quake powers against them, a tricked-out '69 Dodge Charger appears. 

The car revs its engine and roars toward the gun runners. They fire a bazooka or rocket launcher or something at it, which blows it sky high. It flips end over end, lands on the feet, er, I mean wheels, bursts into supernatural flames and continues on its path. It smashes into the skinheads' truck, killing all but two of them. A figure with a flaming skull head emerges from the car. It's Ghost Rider! Not the lame one from the movies, but a cool new non-Cage version. He grabs one of the skinheads and drives off. A stunned Daisy mouths "WTF?"

Meanwhile Coulson and Mack are cooling their heels at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters. There've been lots of changes since the season finale. The biggest one is that Coulson is no longer the Director. There's a brand new sheriff in town, one who's fond of terrible acronyms and goes unseen in this episode. This new Director has decided to split up the old team and give them all separate assignments. Coulson and Mack are determined to intercept Daisy and bring her back to S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent May is now training her own strike force. Fitz is still in the science lab, but Simmons has been promoted, and now reports to the Director. Yo-yo is apparently a part time agent, who's called in from time to time.

May intercepts a report on Daisy's whereabouts, and secretly shares the info with Coulson. Against orders from the Director, he and Mack set out to find her.

Cut to Ghost Rider interrogating his skinhead prisoner. When he refuses to cooperate, Ghost Rider kills him with his car. Daisy goes to visit the other skinhead in the hospital. He tells her that no one survives an encounter with the Ghost Rider for long, and promptly drops dead. Daisy then has a secret meeting with Yo-yo, who's supplying her with bone healing medication from S.H.I.E.L.D. Daisy needs the meds, because despite the fact that she freely used her quake power as much as she wanted with no ill effects last season, suddenly it's damaging the bones in her arms. Yo-yo also tells her that Coulson and Mack are close to finding her.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., May and Simmons argue. May thinks Simmons is kissing up to the new Director and betraying her former teammates. Simmons assures her she doesn't trust this new Director (hmmm...) and is doing everything in her power to gain his confidence so she can protect her friends. She then orders May to bring in Coulson and Mack.

Meanwhile, Fitz goes to Dr. Radcliffe's (remember him from last season?) place to watch the soccer, er, I mean football 
match. Radcliffe's Life Model Decoy AIDA wanders into the living room, much to Fitz's surprise and embarrassment (she's nekkid, dontcha know). Radcliffe says he invented AIDA to act as a "shield" for human agents (wah-wah), so they don't have to risk their lives in dangerous situations. Fitz reminds Radcliffe that that's pretty much how Ultron was born in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Fitz says they have to report AIDA to Simmons immediately, but then changes his mind and says they should keep her a secret until she's perfected. Uh-oh. Keeping secrets from your girlfriend ain't cool, Fitz!

Daisy uses some impressive detective skills to track down Ghost Rider's Charger to an auto yard. She meets Robbie Reyes, who works there. He becomes suspicious of her, turns into Ghost Rider and attacks. She fights back with her quake powers, but is eventually pinned under heavy rubble by Ghost Rider. Feeling guilty for all the blood on her hands, she begs him to go ahead and kill her. He stares at her for a few seconds, then turns, gets in his car and roars off. Why, I have no idea.

Coulson and Mack show up at a warehouse, hoping to catch Daisy. Instead they witness an odd exchange, as two thugs are apparently selling an old chest to a group of Asian mobsters. The head mobster opens the chest, and some kind of mystical energy explodes from it, bathing everyone in glowy sparkles. A ghostly woman then walks past the mobster. Suddenly he sees his underlings transform into withered, black-eyed demons. He freaks out, grabs a gun and starts cutting them down.

May then appears and she and her team take out the rest of the mobsters. She orders her team to load up the Ark Of The Covenant, er, I mean the chest and take it back to S.H.I.E.L.D. Before she leaves the ghostly woman reappears and walks past her. May looks around in confusion, unsure of what just happened.

Later Daisy spies on Robbie, and sees him meet his younger brother (who's in a wheelchair) after school. Awwww. The supernatural vengeance demon has a disabled little brother he supports.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson plays backgammon with May, and they reminisce about the good old days. As May looks at Coulson, she sees him momentarily transform into one of the withered, black-eyed demons before he returns to normal... Uh-oh!

• If nothing else, so far this Ghost Rider is miles above the Nicolas Cage version.

• Wondering why Ghost Rider suddenly drives around in a cool '69 Dodge Charger instead of his traditional motorcycle? Me too. Apparently this is the version that's in the comics these days.

There've been many different Ghost Riders over the years. Most people know the original, Johhny Blaze. He was a stunt rider who gave his soul to Mephisto in order to save his dying father. Every night or whenever he was encountered evil, he transformed into Ghost Rider, and drove a flaming motorcycle. He could also shots blasts of hellfire from his hands. This was the version (more or less) played by Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.

In the 1990s, Danny Ketch became the Ghost Rider after acquiring a motorcycle that was possessed by a Spirit Of Vengeance (!). 

Robbie Reyes is the newest incarnation of Ghost Rider, and debuted in 2014. Reyes works at an auto body shop, and takes care of his developmentally disabled brother Gabe. He entered a street race to earn money to move himself and his brother out of his gang-ridden neighborhood, but was gunned down by mercenaries. He's then resurrected as a demon with a flaming, helmet-like skull head. He drives a '69 Dodge Charger that also has supernatural powers. There's a LOT more to his story, but that'll do for now. 

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is using a modified version of the Robbie Reyes character.

 Ghost Rider's debut— in which his car is hit by a bazooka, flies into the air, flips over a couple of times and lands unscathed—  is taken directly from the comics.

 The Ghost Rider transformation effects were pretty cool, and very well done. Especially on a TV budget. I kind of like that this particular Ghost Rider's head looks more like a stylized helmet than a realistic skull.

 After Ghost Rider's big debut, there's a scene in the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab in which Simmons is walking around inside some sort of elaborate holographic simulation, invented by Fitz. He calls it "The Framework."

This scene has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. It looked expensive though, so there's no way they filmed it just as filler. I'm betting this was all set up, and The Framework is going to become really important later on in the season.

• At one point Simmons makes a comment about "absent friends we'll never see again." She's obviously talking about Mockingbird and Hunter here. As we all know, they were written out last season, so they could star in the Marvel's Most Wanted series. Now that ABC passed on the show (twice!), that's obviously not going to happen. So will they be returning to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sometime this season?

Yes, they said Mockingbird and Hunter were now discommendated or something and could absolutely, positively, never, ever, EVER return. But as we all know, this is a comic book series, and the world "never" doesn't apply. Not even to Coulson, who was killed by Loki in The Avengers and later got better.

• The new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, who was unseen in this episode but will supposedly appear next week, is fond of horrible acronyms. He comes up with "Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology," or S.A.D.I.S.T. for short, as well as "Widespread Infiltration Monitoring Program," or W.I.M.P.

Expect this to be a running joke all season.

 Fitz is shocked and disturbed when he meets AIDA, Dr. Radcliffe's Life Model Decoy. He says creating artificial intelligence is how Ultron was born. Radcliffe says, "But this is not A.I. A.I. is banned. This is mimicry of human behavior."

Um... what the hell's the difference? Aren't they the same thing? Doesn't artificial intelligence mimic the human mind?

• Now that FitzSimmons are finally a couple, expect the writers to immediately begin working on breaking them up. I have a feeling the fact that Fitz is keeping the existence of AIDA a secret from Simmons will end up driving quite a wedge between them.

• Something I'm wondering about Robbie. So far every time he's turned into Ghost Rider, he's been wearing his cool black leather jacket and jeans. The clothes obviously aren't a part of the vengeance demon's body. So what would happen if Robby is dressed for the beach when he transforms? Would Ghost Rider appear as a flaming skeleton wearing a tank top, cargo shorts and sandals? I'd pay to see that!

I need to get started on a drawing of that right away.

• Daisy and Ghost Rider have a big fight in the auto yard. Daisy's pinned under rubble, and even though he could easily kill her, for some reason Ghost Rider simply walks away. Why? Surely she has just as much blood on her hands as the white supremacists he killed.

In the comics, one of Ghost Rider's powers is his "Penance Stare." When he locks eyes with a victim, they feel every pain they've ever inflicted on anyone throughout their life, which causes great physical and mental discomfort.

Was that what was going on when GR had Daisy pinned under the wreckage? He was definitely staring at her, and she looked like she was in pain. If so, it wasn't made very clear. If they're going to use the Penance Stare, then it definitely needs some sort of special effect to show he's using it. An eye glow or something.

• I have no idea what the weird ghost in the chest is about. You know, the one that makes its victim see people as demons, or look like Bilbo Baggins momentarily possessed by the One Ring. I don't remember anything like that from the comics, but then again I stopped buying them when the cover price passed three bucks, sometime around 2000. So I've missed a lot of plotlines.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. producers have stated that this season will have some kind of tenuous connection with the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, so maybe it has something to do with him or his world. Some form of magic?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Harry Potter And The Balloon Mortgage Of Kalamazam

Good news for fans of the Harry Potter movies! If you live near London and have some considerable spare cash lying around, you can buy the iconic house that Harry lived in.

In the films the location was home to Harry's relatives the Dursleys, and was famously located at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. The real world address is 12 Picket Post Close, Martins Heron, Bracknell, Berkshire, England, because British addresses just don't know when to stop.

The two story, three bedroom house features an attached garage and is selling for 475,000 pounds, which works out to a little under $620,000. Yikes! That seems a bit steep for a house that's slightly over a thousand square feet. I'm sure the fact it was featured in the films has nothing to do with the inflated price.

The house was used only for exteriors during filming, as the interiors were all shot on a sound stage.

The listing features a few shots of the actual interior, and it looks like the realtor pushed their wide angle lens to its limit in a flailing attempt to make the place look bigger than it really is. How can I tell they used a wide angle lens? Because most wall clocks are circular, not stretched out ovals, that's why.

The home also features a garden, or "back yard" to us non-Brits. The wide angle lens got a workout here too, unless the house really is shaped like some sort of extreme trapezoid.

I can only imagine the living hell the new owner of this house will have to endure, as carloads of fans pound on the door day and night, demanding to see Harry or get a look at the cupboard under the stairs. Hopefully the owner has a good wand and knows the Crutiatus Curse. Crucio!
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